As a senior, I went to last weekend’s Cold War party knowing full well that my friends and I would likely be the only members of our class in attendance. We did not care; we were just looking to enjoy ourselves, cheer on our friends’ band and reminisce about our own College House days.
The taboo against upperclassmen using the College Houses did not always exist. As recently as my first year, and to a lesser extent my sophomore year, it was not uncommon for upperclassmen to attend College House parties. I remember seeing upperclassmen friends at most of them, not even just the big ones like Cold War.
As we anticipated, this weekend’s Cold War party had the lowest attendance in my time at Bowdoin. After stopping by Mac briefly, we made our way towards Quinby to cheer on our friends’ band, only to be surprised by four Brunswick police officers standing outside. They were checking students’ IDs and threatening to issue court summonses for underage drinking.
Up until now, my only real experience with the Brunswick Police Department (BPD) had been watching officers drive through campus and pull over reckless drivers on Maine Street. I have always appreciated their presence on and around campus. As I understood it, there was an unwritten agreement between Bowdoin and the Town of Brunswick that BPD would let us keep to ourselves so long as we confined our mischief to campus.
My friends and I continued past the police, thinking little of it, and made our way into Quinby just as our friends’ band began playing. After only a few songs though, Bowdoin Security came in to close the party down. To Security’s credit, they were sympathetic and respectful, announcing that the closure was due to noise complaints. When I asked a Security officer why the tamest Cold War party in years was being shut down by police for a simple noise complaint, he attributed it to increasing tensions between the town of Brunswick and Bowdoin due to the increase in off-campus parties.
There were now at least five BPD officers outside of Quinby (others claimed to see as many as eight), certainly an excessive number for a mere noise complaint. Unlike Bowdoin Security, the police officers appeared visibly frustrated. They began interrogating the outpouring students. Some students were scolded justifiably, for drunkenly running down the middle of the street for instance. Other students were harassed unreasonably, having their names and IDs taken down for simply leaving the College Houses.
At the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) meeting this week, Randy Nichols, director of Safety and Security, reaffirmed that Bowdoin-BPD relations are great. I would argue that this incident, as well as several other police-student interactions earlier this year, suggests otherwise. I agree that Bowdoin may have a better relationship with local law enforcement than most schools in the country, but that relationship certainly appears to be worsening. Brunswick police walked onto school grounds to investigate students simply because they heard music coming from the house; that sets a dangerous precedent.
Only one official citation was reported that night, but we cannot ignore what this event means for the future of Bowdoin students. A simple citation for one Bowdoin student could mean deportation for another Bowdoin student. Bowdoin Security has successfully established its role as safekeepers rather than enforcers, and that is remarkable. I believe they are the most underrated department on campus.
The problem only arises in that Bowdoin students are conditioned to be upfront and honest with Security officers at all times, but being honest to a police officer when he or she asks you if you’ve had anything to drink can have serious repercussions. I, like many other Bowdoin students, came into college having never drank before. One of the great assets of the College Houses is that they create a safe environment for students to experiment with alcohol in a safe manner and in the presence of House members who have been trained to facilitate that experience. The presence of BPD, counterintuitively, makes these spaces no longer safe.
College Houses have already become increasingly exclusive spaces for first years and sophomores, but the emerging threat of police investigation make these spaces even less welcoming. Even in their prime, the College Houses have always struggled to make their membership as diverse as the greater student body. With applications for next year’s Houses already down by 17 percent, this incident is going to make it even harder to create diverse and thereby inclusive Houses. Meadow Davis, director of Residential Life, said in the same BSG meeting that students are taking a calculated risk by choosing to live in a College House. As I have already pointed out, these risks have varying severity for each Bowdoin student, and considering the College House system is supposed to epitomize inclusivity, I believe that laying this risk onto the students is unacceptable. Not to mention the even greater potential for A-hosts to be arrested for furnishing alcohol to minors if these trends continue.
The College House system is dying, but who is to blame for this cultural shift? If the increased BPD activity can truly be attributed to an increase in off-campus socializing, then perhaps BSG and the senior class have been somewhat complicit. I would argue, however, that those bodies turnover almost entirely each year, so their capacity and responsibility to deal with a problem that has been growing for many years is limited. In the revolving door that is the Bowdoin student body, only one relevant entity has a consistent presence and should therefore be held responsible for legacy problems: the administration. They have seen this problem developing for years and have for the most part ignored it.
I realize that campus social life is complicated and abstract—we barely even understand what led to this shift towards off-campus housing in the first place. So I am by no means implying that finding and implementing a solution will be easy. Allowing the situation to escalate virtually unabated and allowing Bowdoin-BPD relations to deteriorate into such volatility, however, is absolutely unacceptable.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps I am simply misinterpreting this incident as a trend when it really stands alone. I hope I am wrong. As critical as I have been, I love the College House system, and I truly believe that it is one of the best things about Bowdoin and that it sets us apart from our peer institutions. The College Houses are meant to create a uniquely inclusive space for all Bowdoin students to socialize and have fun, while off-campus parties are inherently exclusive, even if that is not their intention.
As I near graduation and begin reflecting on my Bowdoin experience, I have realized these past four years have easily been the best of my life, but I am ready to leave this place and embark on a new adventure. I just hope, more than anything, that when I return to campus as an alum in the not-so-distant future, I find the inclusive social environment that I remember so fondly.
Riley O’Connell is a member of the Class of 2018.